View from Lodi, CA: Unemployment And Immigration – Something`s Got To Give
March 14, 2003, 04:00 AM
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The Lodi News-Sentinel's headline on February 28th told a sad but familiar tale.

In his story titled "Lodians to lose jobs," reporter Ryan Campbell wrote about the closing of two Interlake Material Handling plants that would cost 180 workers their jobs within the next 60 days.

Interlake's announcement that workers would be laid off is its third dismissal notice during the last two years. In June 2001, 40 workers were fired; in December 2002, 54 employees were terminated.

The news that the local Interlake plant would shut on April 30 and that many of the jobs would be performed at the company's factory in Matamoros, Mexico is an ongoing saga being played out across the country.

February was the nation's worst month for job losses since the October/November period immediately following 9/11. In all, 308,000 jobs were lost in February as the unemployment rate inched up to 5.8% from January's 5.7%.

Economists noted that the latest statistics are negative across the board. Payrolls are down in every sector. And most alarming is the unabated job loss in the manufacturing. In February, manufacturing jobs, in seasonally adjusted terms, dropped below 11 million for the first time since February 1946.

The immediate outlook is bleak since consumers are not demonstrating any eagerness to spend.

For the laid off Lodians who wonder what awaits them, their future is cloudy.

And for those in Matamoros who might be hired, I advise them not to get too comfortable. These days, globalists consider Matamoros an expensive location to operate. In the race to find the cheapest labor costs, China and Sri Lanka are much more attractive.

While Treasury Secretary John W. Snow insisted that February's unemployment statistics were proof that President Bush's tax cut plan be enacted immediately, leading Democrats disagreed.

Presidential candidate Richard Gephardt said that Bush "has left the country unprepared for the economy of the future and without a strategy for meaningful economic growth."[308,000 Jobs Lost in February by Daniel Altman, New York Times, March 8, 2003] And Senate minority leader Tom Daschle accused Bush of turning the economy into "a job-destroying machine."

While it is very convenient and politically expedient for Gephardt and Daschle to make Bush their target, the truth is that one of the biggest threats to continued job loss—the H-1B, the L-1 and the TN visas—need to be dismantled immediately by Congress.

Moving jobs offshore, as Interlake has just done, is old hat. And while jobs have being going overseas for years, so have workers been imported to displace Americans.

For the last decade the H-1B visa has been the vehicle of choice to bring overseas workers to America. But the H-1B visa legislation will sunset this year. And the program—which issues up to 195,000 visas annually—has been the subject of much harsh and deserved criticism. An additional disadvantage to the H-1B under current economic conditions is that it is hard to make a case that the U.S. needs to keep the H-1B visa program  to import "desperately needed" software engineers in light of the dot com crash.

With the spotlight on the H-1B visa, what better strategy for employers than to turn to the L-1?

The L-1 visa is used as an intra-company transfer that allows U.S. companies to "transfer" employees from the parent company, foreign subsidiaries or affiliates to the U.S. - for up to seven years. Unlike the H-1B visa, there is no limit on the number of L-1 visas that can be issued or on the numbers of workers who can be imported at any one time.

According to a recent Business Week article, [March 6, 2003, A Mainframe-Size Visa Loophole] 350,000 L-1 visa holders have taken American jobs.

Take Interlake, owned by the Sydney, Australia-based Brambles Industries Limited, as an example of how the L-1 works. Brambles operates in 40 countries and in six continents. Under L-1 visa provisions, any Brambles employee in any plant or division could come to the United States to replace a U.S. worker.

Not only do we have to worry about the L-1 visa, there is also the TN visa. If you are a professional or if your job requires a college diploma, look out.

After 2005, pursuant to the NAFTA agreement, the U.S. will allow open borders for licensed professionals practicing in Mexico to work in the U.S—without quotas and without the nuisance of having to secure a visa. All he will have to do is hang up his shingle.

Here's more: if the U.S.-Chile Free Trade accord is ratified by Congress, any professional Chilean—again without quotas—will have the legal right to come to the U.S. to practice his trade.

No one's job is safe. For America to have any kind of chance to maintain itself, the H-1B, the L-1 and the TN visas must be abolished.

Every time I hear President Bush say that he is committed to protecting Americans, referring to Iraq, I wonder if he ever gives our workers a moment's thought.

Judging by current economic conditions, it doesn't appear that he does.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.